It is easy to criticize Robert L. “Bob” Johnson, but is not easy to be Bob Johnson. As the story goes, when Bob Johnson arrived in Washington, DC, with not much money in his pocket and a dream to establish a cable television network, he could hardly find support from the abundant black intelligentsia residing in Greater Washington. In fact, Johnson found very few funders within the DC black community, but Johnson together with his wife Sheila persevered, and they launched Black Entertainment Television (BET) in 1980. Through the years, Mr. Johnson received stark criticism from so-called black leaders and scholars for the lack of socially conscious programming aired on BET. Many of the African American commentators leveling criticism against BET contended that Bob Johnson bore a responsibility to provide better programming, since BET was the only network of its kind, i.e. the only network specifically targeting African Americans. Although such arguments possessed merit, none of BET’s critics seemed to command the wherewithal to establish a competing network. Likely still jaded from his slow and undoubtedly stressful initial fundraising campaigns, Johnson largely ignored their critiques, and in 2003, Bob Johnson became the first African American billionaire by selling the network to Viacom for a reported $3 billion.
The majority of entrepreneurs understand how difficult funding a dream can be. No matter how innovative the idea, how disruptive the technology, a potential investor will rarely stroke a check in the first meeting. The entrepreneur must sell each investor on the idea. As tough as it is, obtaining funding is only half the battle. The entrepreneur must generate a return on each of those investments, which can be even more difficult than raising the money. If it were easy, more people would be entrepreneurs. Contrary to popular belief, most entrepreneurs work 10 - 12 hour days or longer without taking frequent or luxurious vacations. Entrepreneurs must even withstand doubt from their closest friends and family. As it turns out, the majority of entrepreneurs are not successful; nonetheless, most entrepreneurs who try and fail still say they will try it again. Entrepreneurship, success or failure, can be that fulfilling. Establishing a small business can be the means to realizing all of your dreams or the turning point at which you lose all of your material possessions. Becoming an entrepreneur is definitely not for the faint of heart.
Lord knows most of the programming and music videos aired by BET make me nauseous. Much of the content broadcast by BET is disturbing to say the least. BET, unfortunately, promotes the debilitating stereotypes retarding the social advancement of African Americans. At the same time, I respect Bob Johnson for having the courage to be the first to establish a black-owned cable television network, and where are his critics now? Many of them seek funding from Mr. Johnson for their various projects. At present, Bob Johnson has probably done more to hurt the image of the African American male than he has to elevate it, but thankfully, Mr. Johnson’s story is not over. In the end, he will probably be remembered more for being an outstanding business magnate than the founder of BET, just as it should be.
Amir Clayton Powell is an author, advocate, entrepreneur, father, husband, servant of God, and warrior. By the by, he also happens to be the Publisher of The Old School Journal™ (TOSJ) as well as the Founder & Chairman of A C Powell & Co. LLC. Find A C on Twitter: @AClaytonPowell. Follow TOSJ on Facebook & Twitter.
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